By reaching the finals of the African Games in Rabat, featherweight Isaac Masembe and middleweight David Ssemuju broke a 20-year jinx.
Until then no Ugandan boxer had ever reached the finals of the continental Games since Abdul Tebazaalwa, Muhammad Kizito and Adam Kassim in Johannesburg 1999.
Ssemuju and Masembe missed gold by a whisker, settling for silver after losing decisions to Moroccan boxers. But it was no mean achievement considering that both were continental debutants; were Team Uganda’s best performers in Rabat and that in the past four editions, the Bombers managed only four bronze medals.
While Masembe made their history in the ring, their female colleague ‘Nnaalongo’ Hellen Baleke made hers in the boardroom.
Only seven boxers registered in the women’s middleweight division and during the draws, Baleke was the lucky one to get a bye straight into the semis.
This guaranteed her at least bronze, and even when she surrendered to the towering Moroccan Khadija Mardi in the second round, Baleke returned home with her bronze, becoming the first Ugandan lady boxer to win a medal at the continental Games.
Aciga stands tall
In the two years running, Stephen Aciga Fula, Uganda’s only Aiba Star Three referee/judge, is becoming a consistent presence in the international boxing arenas. Just in 2019, Aciga was involved in 181 international bouts: 112 at the African Games in Rabat, 69 at the Aiba World Boxing Championship in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
And in all tournaments he has been to, he brags to never miss a final bout. For long, Ugandan ring officials lacked such high profile opportunities.
Bombers could do better
Pardon Baleke, who was returning after nearly five years in retirement. Likewise, colleague Jalia Nali who defeated Amondine Ndarata but fell to Mali’s Fatouma Camara. Champion Businge and youngster Joshua Tukamuhebwa also tried. But captain Musa Shadir Bwogi, in his third international tournament, knows he should have done better.
Even Solomon Geko, another senior Bomber, a 2014 Commonwealth Games participant, owed us more than losing instantly.
Missing the World Championship
Ring official Aciga Fula was the only Ugandan at the World Boxing Championship in Yekaterinburg, Russia in September. Not African silver medalists Ssemuju or Masembe or any other boxer. Even Baleke and other ladies missed the Women’s edition in Ulan-Ude, Russia in October. UBF boss Moses Muhangi said the federation lacked the funds to prepare the team for Russia.
Even though these tournaments were not qualifiers for the Olympics, as they usually are, our boxers needed to test their work and familiarize with their potential Olympic opponents, in a year preceding the Tokyo showpiece.
More dollars against HIV
At the end of 2018, UNAIDS, The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS and the Uganda Boxing Federation launched a joint campaign dubbed ‘2030 Box HIV/Aids out of Uganda’ to convince boxers to embrace preventive and curative HIV measures.
In the first phase, boxers and associates were tested during tournaments, while during fight intervals, students carried placards with powerful HIV sensitising messages like: “Abstain from sex until you are ready for its consequences”; “Even a strong person can have HIV/Aids”; “Testing for viral load helps you know whether your ARVs are working well”; “Even circumcised men need to use condoms;” “Even if I trust him I insist on using a condom,” “Stigma has no place in Uganda,” and many more.
The campaigners, who included staff from UNAIDS, Aids Information Centre and the Uganda Aids Commission also did onsite testing and sensitisation at five clubs in Kampala. In the first phase, medics say, 1500 boxers were tested with 11 found positive.
These were instantly linked to antiretroviral medication and counseling, and hopefully some will come out to become anti-HIV crusaders like former radio presenter Moses ‘Super Charger’ Nsubuga, a key facilitator in this campaign.
Following that success, partners injected another $30,000 (Shs110m) into the second phase, which was launched in mid-October, with even more expected along the way.
This is by far the biggest achievement of the Muhangi administration since its inception in January 2018.
Long, tough road to Tokyo
For long there were rumours that boxing might be banned from the from the 2020 Olympics.
But the feud between Aiba, the international boxing body and the International Olympic Committee finally subsided with Aiba being kicked out of all the preparations.
Then the IOC appointed a task force that would help the local boxing federations in the preps. Our own UOC president William Blick is a member of the task force and vowed to collaborate with the UBF and the professional body “to select the best group of boxers to represent Uganda in Tokyo.”
Was it simply hot air?
The UBF president cut vented his disappointment towards the UOC and the National Council of Sports for not playing their part in the boxers’ Olympic roadmap.
“They promised us funds, we don’t see them.”
While our neighbors Kenya are considering a training camp in Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan ahead of the African Olympic qualifiers in Dakar, Senegal in February, Ugandan boxers were braving the unpredictable weather at the preliminary national eliminations.
Boxing under the open skies at the volleyball court at Lugogo last week, the men and ladies had to improvise on a slippery canvas when rains poured, or brave the heat and thirst when the sun scorched.
No wonder many suffered cuts. They are no financial commitments from the UOC or NCS ahead of the non-residential training before the final elimination January 12.
Remember these men and women are fighting for the national cause.